Sita, the Sacred Mother
South Africa joins the comity of nations in celebrating the International Mother’s Day on the ensuing 11th May. A Happy Mother’s day to everyone! Last Tuesday at our Glen Anil Main centre we handed over gift packets to a group of mothers from Greenbury Project.
Today is Sita Jayanti. The Hindu culture has iconic mothers in plenty, but there was never “another” like mother Sita, in the words of Swami Vivekananda. She was found when King-sage Janaka furrowed the land for cultivation. She is the Divine Mother Mahalakshmi incarnate on the earth. Four quotes from Swami Vivekananda’s Complete Works:
Swami Gambhiranandaji in his authoritative biography – ‘Holy Mother Sri Sarada Devi‘ – explains thus. “The devotees believe that the same personage who incarnated in the Treta yuga as Sita, the ever faithful consort of Ramachandra, descended again as the all-enduring and ever gracious Holy Mother, so that the sudden sight of the uncovered image carried her mind unconsciously across the vast span of thousands of years and the past appeared as a vivid present; and forgetful of her immediate environment she made that spontaneous remark.” Swami Abhedananda, one of the Direct Disciples of Sri Ramakrishna, in resemblance to the ‘worldly-disease’ mentioned in the beginning of this post, follows the footsteps of Saint Tulsidas. What is the remedy? Abhedanandaji goes on to say that the remedy for this ‘bhava-roga‘ – worldly disease – is to sip the honey flowing from the lotus of the Mother’s feet.
May Mother Sarada who is no other than Mother Sita fill our hearts with her sterling qualities!
|| Aum Shri Raamakrishnaarpanamastu ||
Today is varuthini ekadashi when Lord Vishnu is worshipped in His avatara form as Vamana. Hence I pay my loving homage to one sadhu of our Order who was an ardent devotee of Sri Hari.
Swami Purananandaji (Sunil Maharaj) passed away on 12 February at 2.15 am at Seva Pratishthan, Kolkata. He was 84 and had been suffering from chronic kidney disease and diabetes for some years. Initiated by Swami Shankaranandaji, he joined the Order in 1951 at Belur Math and had Sannyasa from his Guru in 1961. Besides Belur Math, he served at Patna, Mumbai and Gol Park centres as an assistant, and Kanpur, Mauritius (for a short period), Puri Mission, Cossipore and Barasat centres as Head. He had been living a retired life for about six years at Gol Park centre. The Swami was a good singer and an impressive speaker and was known for his gentlemanly manners. Soft spoken and amiable by nature, he endeared himself to all those who came in contact with him.
– Source: Belur Math website
About a sadhu
from nondescript to nonpareil
Even after seeing many deaths in close proximity during my more than four decades of organisational life (all along I was somehow posted in hospital centres), the inevitable always holds my attention in a mysterious manner. The news of the passing away of the respected Swami Purananandaji Maharaj made me more introspective.
It was my good fortune that by the grace of our Master, I could join Kanpur ashram and could live, albeit a short four and half years, with a sadhu who appeared to be unparalleled to me. I asked him before leaving for my learning at Brahmacharins’ Training Centre to tell me about some of his personal anecdotes before he came into the Order. He said sweetly that I should not bother about knowing of his past as he was merely a nondescript.
If he was really nondescript as he claimed, the Order then made him nonpareil. The foremost characteristic of this sadhu that comes to my mind is his utterly humble nature. When I would in my audacity comment on his humility as bordering the vaishnavite, he would never fail to rejoin “How can I explain the joy of Harinam?”. It made sense to me much later that unless one gets the joy in repeating the name of God, humility can never be one’s possession.
Learn from living
As a new entrant into the Order, I was as often happens asked to take up the puja work to develop devotion to Master. There was an elderly Pujari Maharaj who needed assistance too. He was an expert in the art of decoration of the holy altar. Performing puja in the shrine gave me immense satisfaction. And Purananandaji taught me the intricate rituals only after I learnt by heart all the puja mantras. It was a joyful experience to learn under him as he would not only explain the rituals but also expound the inner meaning of those rituals.
One day after the lunch prasad, when I had retired to my room for the usual quota of noon siesta, I heard a knock on my door. It was highly sultry in the summer, and as there was no electricity the fan could not be turned on. So with just a ‘gamcha‘ around me I opened the door. There he was standing. He was the Head of the centre during those days. He asked me “Would you mind please going to the Bank now as some urgent matters have to be attended?” I replied, “Maharaj I am only a Brahmachari. Why should you be so polite to tell me like this? Just please order me and I would gladly do any work at any time.” His humble way of not disturbing a Brahmachari after the lunch hours made a deep impression on me.
A discussion came up at one night class among the brahmacharins as to what one should pray. Obviously every one agreed including a few senior sadhus that we all should pray for only devotion, detachment and knowledge. It was Revered Maharaj who pointed out that we should also ask for secular knowledge – only to that extent which can be put to use in the performance of Master’s work.
Taste of Tulsidas
Hindi was not my subject in school days. Hence I found it hard to communicate with devotees and also the public who frequented our Kanpur ashram. Those were the years when there was not only an apathy but also some sort of ‘hatred’ towards speaking English in public places. Understanding my difficulties, Revered maharaj taught me the conversational Hindi very quickly.
He made me go through the writings of whose articles used to appear in the famous monthly magazine Kalyan published by the Gita Press. I think I have not come across any other person, writing on spiritual subjects, in Hindi so clearly, in a simple style and understandable even to the learners of Hindi. They were fascinating in meaning as well as in the use of language. I found joy in learning the language by studying the magazine! Even today by the munificence of Sri Nandlal Tantia, one of our devotees in India, I receive a copy of the Kalyan every month by post!
I noticed that Revered Maharaj had scholarly interest in Tulsi Ramayan as well as in Adhyatma Ramayana as he was equally facile in Hindi and Sanskrit. I would avidly attend all his classes at the Kanpur Ashram’s beautiful shrine hall as they would open to me the doors of insights into the scriptures. One thing I could understand was this: the words of shastras have always an internal meaning that can be communicated only when a person is a sincere sadhaka. A scholarly exposition many can make (I felt it was like eating saltless meal!) but revealing the spiritual import is possible only for a profound striver. His set routine to sit and meditate was a classic example for all the brahmacharins there.
For the first time I heard from him about a saint by name Sri Ramkinkarji. I am eternally indebted to this Swami for this generous act of goading me to study the books of Sri Ramkinkarji. Effortlessly I became a ‘fan’ of him because his fabulous explanations ‘fanned’ my interest in learning a few concepts from the Tulsi Ramayan. They help me in my personal spiritual practices.
Later from Ranchi I used to visit Gol Park centre in Kolkata only to see Revered Maharaj and whenever it was coincided, I would not fail to attend his class. He was of course greatly pleased with my presence and would always tell other devotees painting me in the most (undeserving) glorious terms!
I had an opportunity to visit Puri when he was the Head of the Mission branch. Undoubtedly he was very pleased to have me at his centre. He instructed the respected Ashram Panda to take me for the darshan of Lord Jagannatha. I thanked Revered Maharaj for all the arrangements that he did for me and quipped to him that he was in the right place as he was a vishnu-bhakta! He replied solemnly that Lord Jagannatha in His infinite mercy brought him there to savour His mahaprasad daily. He explained to me at that juncture about the utmost veneration that Master and Mother had for Jagannath mahaprasad. So forceful was his narration that it made deep impression on my mind. Even now staying in far away South Africa, I do partake one or two dana (grains) of that mahaprasad which is also called ‘Nirmalya’.
Whenever I would come to Kolkata from Itanagar or when I was posted in Seva Pratishthan in Kolkata itself, it was my pleasure to be with him in Cossipore and spend at least three nights there just to have his holy company. The conversations were never of worldly nature but always centred around Master, Mother and Swamiji.
Listening pleasure or pain?
Once I travelled to Mumbai from Itanagar. I was there in connection with the import of some medical equipment that had to be taken delivery of at the airport. At the ashram the Swami was happy to receive me and showed me my room. Somehow I would rush from my work before the evening arati started only to listen to his mellifluous singing. During my Kanpur stay I had really enjoyed his singing style which was layered with his love for the Master.
So I just lamented to him saying that how I was deprived of the listening pleasure while the Mumbai devotees were blessed to hear him day in and day out! In his unique jocular way he smilingly replied that after finishing two or three songs, he would just turn around to see whether devotees were pleased or not and invariably they would sport a broad smile by which he understood that they had enjoyed his music. Only after a long time, he added covering his mouth by his palm, that he realised to his dismay the smile on the devotees’ lips was not due to their liking his singing but to the relief they felt when he concluded his singing!
It took me some time to understand why my mind during my visits to Kolkata would not be set at rest until I met him. I would often wonder whether our generation could rise to such high levels of humility, practice of swadhyaya (self-study) and above all in pouring unbounded love to the recalcitrant juniors!
Swami Purananandaji was a sadhu nonpareil.
|| Aum Shri Ramakrishnarpanamastu ||
In our Phoenix sub-centre, the gathering of senior citizens on every Tuesday is a big event. More than 500 people assemble – most start trickling into the campus as early as six in the morning. It is a joyful feeling to see them mingling in the crowd and talking to each other thus creating a fine divine bond of relationship in the name of our Master.
Many a time I do visit to address them for half an hour. It has benefitted me in a variety of ways: to look upon them as varied manifestation of Master and Mother; to enjoy the wonderful smiles on each of them; to engage them in some sort of philosophical thinking; to make them feel free and laugh so as to keep the negative, worrying thoughts at bay.
Today when I stood before them and began my speech, I didn’t know what subject I should talk about. Mahashivaratri is on next Monday night. Why not I speak on Lord Shiva and Mother Parvati, I thought. I started thus: ” I just wonder whether I should greet you all a very happy Valentine’s Day?” That question brought loud laughter amongst the assembled senior citizens.
The eternal love between the Divinities has had captured the imagination of very many poets. Puranas excel in retelling the story of wedding of Shiva and Shakti in most enjoyable form of narratives. So I went on to say about Shiva’s wedding with Parvati – one when She was born as a daughter of Daksha and another when she was born to Himavan.
Both the wedding stories are fascinating. I adapted the former story from Sri Ramacharitamanas of Saint Tulsidas and the latter heard from a katha-kalakshepam done by Kripananda Variyar many, many years back. Both kept the audience on tenterhooks.
Reading Sri Ramacharitamanasa of Tulsidas is always a rewarding experience. Indeed the original verses are so sweet that are no less a symphony stilled into the scattered words. They are not merely poetic in the sense you enjoy the structure and meaning and say ‘wow’! The work is undoubtedly a grand epic poem but the poem that is pro-active in putting an end to your slumber, in awakening you from dreamy sleep, and in instructing you on your way up. Can we have that same magic in its translated version? Very many people affirm a big NO!
I have of course read prosaic translation in English that does not, in my humble opinion, do justice to the original. And how difficult is to translate the original in English verses? Will that make an appeal to your heart? These were some random thoughts when I received a response in the Comments section, the following from Skendha. Who is she? A young lady from New Delhi, she is a regular visitor to this blog. In her own words, somewhere else on the internet, “I’m more a mind demon, love reading, writing, eating!…Idealistic and spiritual and sensitive…” Her favourite quote is always from Swami Vivekananda.
After reading her creation, I was, to say the least, stunned. I read it out to a few others who were equally stunned and said that the translation has taken newer heights in understanding the original’s beauty. I am happy to place her ‘offering’ in my blog thus sharing the joy that I felt. (Incidentally this is the 100th Post in this blog!)
I hope it will not be an impudence but since you made that kind suggestion, I am bringing it up… I had translated the passage into verse some years ago. And I am reproducing it here, just as an offering . Please kindly accept it. With warmest regards,
Skendha, New Delhi
Epic of Ram: The Season of Rains
Translated from Goswami Tulasidasji’ SriRamCharitMaanas.Lakshman behold the peacocks ! Dancing for the darkened skies; Rejoicing as the devotee who Discovers a Vaishnava monk in sight. The rolling thunder of stormy clouds strains against the shadowy skies, And in the absence of My precious Sita, bereft of all peace am I; The lightning bolt tearing the clouds wilfully whirls across the horizon, Darting and flitting as do the sentiments of a rake, loyal to no one. The raining clouds are strung over the earth, bowed with their burden, Humble as him who, toiling for years attains to divine wisdom; How these great mountains do face the onslaught of pitiless torrents, With calm fortitude as the saints, who endure the fool’s comments. The sated streams blossoming into rivers, frolic along their shores Glorying in their noveau riches, just as the knave who must make a show. The embrace of the earth stains the fair, bright showers from heaven, Muddied, as if they were the soul of man tarnished by dark delusions. The streams rush on, and filling the lustrous lake are lost in it’s bosom, Drawn unerringly as the divine qualities are towards a holy one; The wild course of the heedless rivers ends in the placid expanse of the seas; Sojourning like the soul which, merging with Hari, attains eternal peace. Four quarters of this forest are dripping with croaks, chirps, many songs, Blissful as when the bramhacharins, chant the Vedas, to herald the dawn. The wet branches of dark brown trees which bring forth leaves of glossy green, Are beautified as the mind of a seeker which, blessed by intellect, becomes serene. Oh look Brother! how the stars are challenged by this brave battalion of fireflies! Ill-advised as the gathering of cheats who make a hollow show for all eyes. And here and there lie weary travellers, broken down and pining for rest, Ravaged as the senses of a man, in whom discrimination has made conquest. Lo! it is day as Divakar smiles, But He is hidden again and lo! it is night. As the cloud-bank, so is company, My Son, It fires or smothers our Eternal Light.